I'm neuroatypical in, oh, a fair number of ways. Couple of common ways, couple of oddball ways, whatever. Some of these ways can be a drag, and some work in my favor. I'm also someone who has spent a fair span of my life being abused by other neuroatypical people whose neuroatypicality was, uh... we'll say it wasn't incidental to the fact that abuse was happening.
So I want to make it clear that I'm straddling the line a lot of people want to draw between Innocent Disabled Victims and the Cruel Abusive Personality Disordered Monsters who prowl the planet creating drama and more Innocent Disabled Victims. I want to make it clear that that line is not actually a border between two countries, or even two categories. It's a line between people we've decided we're not allowed to draw boundaries with and people we are.
That's fucked up on both counts. But let's back it up a moment. In conversations about the scariest of mental illnesses, the biggies like personality disorders or anything that comes with delusions, what I find entertaining is the inevitable participation of Normal Good People With Empathy who are pointing to people they perceive to have less empathy, declaring them a subhuman menace, and defending their ejection from participation in human society on the grounds that they are a net detriment to the social context they’re embedded in. The so-called high empathy good people say this. You can tell they have plenty of empathy and are therefore safe because they want all the weirdos and the freaks and the crazies down in a cage next to Multiple Miggs.
Every time this topic gets discussed, those good people ride in to save us all from the people with no empathy. They’re reliable that way.
And my goodness, to hear them friggin howl every time a mentally ill person says, "You don't have to give us anything you can't or don't want to, but you also don't have to talk about us like we're not people." You'd think every single one of them checked their Facebook only to learn from their Notifications that they'd woken up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing. You got us, you just barely-recovered desperately-overcompensating ex-codependents! Today we tell you to draw boundaries with the mentally ill WITHOUT dehumanizing us, and then tomorrow we’ll be hanging you on our cars to use as blood bags on the Fury Road!!
You figured out our evil plan.
In seriousness, though, they're so attached to this strategy, and it's only tonight I really found enough distance to actually give thought to why they're so determined to defend not their right to draw boundaries, but their right to do it this particular way.
When they do this, what are they doing really? What function does this behavior serve? To me, it looks like the pendulum backswing of people who have, like I have, lived that codependency life and are D-O-N-E DONE with it forever. And good for them. Seriously, y'all, codependency: not even once. The way to avoid falling into codependency, in my experience, is learning that just because some people are pitiful doesn't mean they're entitled to me specifically falling on every single one of their grenades.
What I see in these desperate people is an extra step, an unnecessary step, a step that will come back to bite them in the ass sooner or later.
This extra step is a patch to make it easier for them to say no, but all it actually does is narrow the circumstances in which they allow themselves to say no by permitting a boundary to be set only in circumstances where they can justify pre-emptively shitting all over the hypothetical transgressor. This is a good way to get themselves psychically revved-up to do the hard work of policing the boundaries of their own lives, but it comes at a cost both to the people around them and to themselves.
The cost to the people around them is straightforward. They get to deal with someone who, secure in their own impeccable coping, cannot set a boundary without kindling all their pent-up indignation and frustration and anxiety around the feet of the person they're approaching and then lighting them up, because you see they are so healthy and drama-free and just cannot be around any more negativity or manipulation and that is why they require instantaneous compliance with a sudden feelingsbomb that anyone else less ferociously defensive might have simply stated as a two-sentence request, complete with please and thank you.
The cost to themselves is that they have made boundary setting exhausting for themselves, and they've made it very difficult and high-stakes in situations where they don't actually want to heap vitriol all over a loved one whose goodwill they may actually wish to maintain. The cost to themselves is that they have turned advocating for themselves into a fundamentally unsustainable activity, one that can only be done in bursts of crisis. They have robbed themselves of relating as a cooperative activity.
Because, you see, they're done with "crazy," and thought they could leapfrog the part where they attempt to come to some kind of understanding of what it is and how it happens.
I have a lot of personal internalized ableism myself, particularly around borderline personality disorder. In my experience BPD has been like lycanthropy. It’s nobody’s fault if they get bitten, but anybody who’s been bit then has a responsibility as a human being who is equal to other human beings not to pass on the curse by forcing others to warp around their disordered coping.
You’d never know I’d been bitten to interact with me. I took Measures. I overcompensated to make myself safer to be around, and as a result have other diagnoses impacting me, but at least I’m not biting anybody. The curse stops with me. But that doesn’t mean I’m the first one in the chain of victims who counts, either. I’m just the first who decided she’d rather be a safe robot than a mad dog, since I never saw humanity in the array of my potential futures. I was a child; I did the best I could, like all children. Which of us is human? All of us? None? For how long? Is there a cutoff age? Who decides when that was?
(I mention BPD more here than antisocial personality disorder because of family experience. Other people who've lived closer to ASPD could give you finer detail than I could.)
The point of my personal divergence here is that there's no intuitive way I can see to separate abusers with personality disorders and their victims with abuse-rooted personality disorders. Maybe some lives look more clear cut. Maybe some people live there, and maybe they can map that territory in a way I'll find comprehensible, but right now I have a clearer mental picture of the skin of Mercury. For me, there is no line. For me, there is no way for anybody to say, "It's okay to draw boundaries with the bad ones, but not the good ones! For them we must give all! The bad ones get nothing!" Because who is that, even? Who is so bad they deserve literally nothing? Who is good enough to deserve anybody's everything?
We don't have to dehumanize anybody or put anybody up on a Perfect Patient Who Seeks Help pedestal to decide whom we get to draw boundaries with. That's lingering codependency brainbad talking; I'm telling you it is. It's telling you that someday the right person'll come along and you'll be ready to turn your soul to mush for them and it'll be awesome and you'll be such a good person finally! And if you can work up the courage to say no, to save yourself, to refuse to let yourself be spaghettified into the black hole of someone else's tragedy, that it must be because they're a Wicked Bad Inhuman Monster and you should Tell Them So, so you'd better beg your codependency brain for an excuse, for an indulgence you don't need!
You’re a person too. Nobody’s sanity needs to come at the cost of your own. That’s not increasing the world’s net sanity; that’s just shifting it around. It isn’t sustainable. You are a person too and you deserve your own compassion.
You can say, “I can’t do it; I can’t be the one,” without saying, “no one should do it because those freaks aren’t human.”
You don’t owe anybody your blood, your kidney, your spinal fluid, or your sanity. You can say no to people and have them still be people. Some particularly desperate recovering codependents don’t seem able to draw boundaries with equals, only with people they’ve depersonalized. That’s what gives me the creeps. But please don’t apply my discomfort to the bare reality of your legitimate right to decide what to give and when. You are a person too, and and slash and burn harvesting doesn’t work any more responsibly in the human heart than it does in a forest. I trust your pace and your right to regenerate and I hope you do too.
And maybe once more people trust their right to say no, they'll stop having to arm themselves up with fear-aggression to saw everybody else down to something less than people before they feel righteous enough by comparison to speak the words.